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2015 College Football Preview: SEC West

Nick Saban has brought Alabama back to prominence and the Tide are always a Championship Contender with him at the helm. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)
Nick Saban has brought Alabama back to prominence and the Tide are always a Championship Contender with him at the helm. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: SEC West

We have reached our final preview in the 2015 College Football Preview series here at Sports Enthusiasts. The SEC West, along with the SEC Championship, are in the crosshairs and what a final division we have to look at. Below are all the previews done to this point, so please feel free to check those out.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a look at the one of the toughest divisions in college football, the SEC West.

1. LSU Tigers

Les Miles has been wonderful at LSU. In his 10 years, he has won at ten games 7 times and his “worst” year has been an 8-5 recorded in both 2008 and 2014. LSU lost the 2011 BCS Championship to Alabama 21-0 and followed that with back-to-back 10-3 seasons. 2014 was plagued by inconsistency at quarterback and both return in 2015.

The offense will have nine starters returning from a group that put 27.6 points and 387 yards per game. Brandon Harris is expected to win the starting quarterback job after throwing for 452 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He will have Anthony Jennings (1,611 yards with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions) behind him if he cannot handle those duties. Leonard Fournette was hyped as the next-coming in 2014 and he finished the year with a solid 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns while better production is expected of him in 2015. The top four receivers all return, however, their numbers are hardly overwhelming. Travin Dural had 37 catches for 758 yards and 7 touchdowns, Malachi Dupre had 14 receptions for 318 yards and 5 touchdowns, John Diarse caught 15 passes for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Trey Quinn finished with 17 catches for 193 yards. With three starters back on the offensive line as well as better quarterback play in 2015, the offense should produce better numbers than they did last year.

LSU’s defense is usually pretty good. 2014 was no exception with the team yielding 17.5 points and 317 yards per game. In 2015, there will be six starters back with two on the defensive line. Those two will be Christian LaCouture (40 tackles and 2.5 sacks) and Davon Godchaux (42 tackles). LSU loses linebacker Kwon Alexander (90 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss), but does have Kendall Beckwith (77 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Lamar Louis (29 tackles) returning. The secondary has two starters back as well with Jalen Mills leading the way (62 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception), but he will miss at least the first four weeks due to leg surgery. The other returning starter is Tre’Davious White, who had 33 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions while Jamal Adams was integral in 2014 with 66 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss. The defense will be stingy again in 2015, especially when Mills returns.

LSU has a non-conference schedule of McNeese State (home), Syracuse (road), Eastern Michigan (home), and Western Kentucky (home), which makes them very likely to go 4-0 in those games. In their division, they will face Mississippi State, Alabama, and Ole Miss on the road in three very tough games while playing Auburn, Arkansas, and Texas A&M at home. From the East, they will play South Carolina (road) and Florida (home) in two winnable games. The games against Alabama on November 7, Arkansas on November 14, and Mississippi on November 21 are sure to determine whether LSU wins the SEC West.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

We all know that Nick Saban has been great at Alabama. After a 7-6 record in his first year during the 2007 season, Alabama has won at least 10 games every year since 2008. He has won three SEC Championships as well as three National Titles for the Crimson Tide. The one concern (if you can call it that) is the defense has given up 45 points and 42 points, respectively, in the past two years during the Sugar Bowl. Alabama lost both of those games including last year when they were eliminated the College Football Playoff Semifinals by eventual national champion Ohio State.

The offense put up 36.9 points and 485 yards per game in 2014 with Lane Kiffin at the helm, but 2015 will be interesting with only three starters returning. Jake Coker will be at quarterback after throwing for 403 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions last year, but has plenty of talent after battling Jameis Winston when he was at Florida State. Derrick Henry was the top running back in 2014 with 990 yards and 11 touchdowns in a deep backfield while Kenyan Drake (112 yards and 4 touchdowns) is back after a broken leg last year. The biggest loss was at wide receiver with Amari Cooper (124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns) going on to the NFL. There is a lot of talent here (Robert Foster, Calvin Ridley, Daylon Charlot) and a bit of experience in OJ Howard (17 catches for 260 yards), Chris Black (15 catches for 188 yards), and ArDarius Stewart (12 catches for 149 yards), but that production will be impossible to replace. There will also be only two starters back on the line so the work will be cut out for Saban and Kiffin. It is hard to see the offense producing the same numbers in 2015 as they did in 2014.

The defense is almost always spectacular under Saban. Their worst year since 2008 was actually last year when they allowed 18.4 points and 328 yards per game, which is still a very good season. Seven starters are back in 2015 including all three on the defensive line. Jonathan Allen had 33 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss, A’Shawn Robinson had 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, and Jarran Reed had 55 tackles, 1 sack, and 5.5 tackles for loss. Returning at linebacker will be the duo of Reggie Ragland (95 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Denzel Devall (11 tackles) who made seven starters and was out with injury for six games. The secondary is led by Cyrus Jones, who had 46 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. Also returning in the secondary is Eddie Jackson (41 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception). Look for another big year from the defense that could have even better numbers than they had in 2014.

Alabama opens the year with the tough neutral site game against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. They will also face the trio of Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Charleston Southern at home to close out their non-conference schedule. They will have to play Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU at home while facing Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn on the road. From the East, Alabama will play Georgia (road) and Tennessee (home). The offense is the obvious concern for Alabama, but their defense should be good enough to keep them in every game while the offense finds its feet.

3. Mississippi Rebels

Ole Miss went 4-8 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2011 in Houston Nutt’s last two years. They decided to bring in Hugh Freeze, who has steadily turned around the Rebels. He paid immediate dividends by taking the Rebels to a bowl game in his first season and then went 8-5 in 2013. 2014 was a really good season for them with a 9-4 record including a 23-17 victory over #4 Alabama at home, but were blown out by an excellent (and angry) TCU squad in the Peach Bowl.

The offense has been good under Freeze in all three seasons. In 2013, they put up 30 points and 473 yards per game while those numbers dropped a bit in 2014 to 28.3 points and 419 yards per game. There will be nine starters back for Ole Miss this year, but quarterback Bo Wallace is gone. The good news for the Rebels is they have Clemson transfer Chad Kelly ready to take over immediately after a year in the junior college ranks. They will also have the top two running backs from last year in Jaylen Walton (586 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Jordan Wilkins (361 yards and a touchdown). The receiving unit looks to be in good shape even without their top man from 2014. Evan Engram (38 catches for 662 yards and 2 touchdowns), Cody Core (41 receptions for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns, and, of course, the return of LaQuon Treadwell (48 catches for 632 yards and 5 touchdowns). The entire offensive line returns and despite the loss of Wallace, the offense should be able to put up good numbers again in 2015.

The defense was very good in 2014 by giving up only 16 points and 329 yards per game. Seven starters will be back from that defense led by the trio of Robert Nkemdiche (35 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), Isaac Gross (37 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss), and Marquis Haynes (31 tackles and 7.5 sacks) on the line. Also in the mix on the line are junior college transfer DJ Jones, redshirt freshman Breeland Speaks, and senior Channing Ward (30 tackles and 2.5 sacks). CJ Johnson is back at linebacker (38 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) and will be joined by Denzel Nkemdiche (28 tackles and 1 sack), who missed the final five games of the year due to a broken ankle. The secondary will have three starters back led by Tony Conner (69 tackles, 1 sack, 8 tackles for loss, and an interception), Mike Hilton (71 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions), and Trae Elston (59 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception). The defense will be good again in 2015, but may not match the same numbers from 2014.

Ole Miss has an easy non-conference schedule with Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State, and New Mexico State at home and a single road game at Memphis. In division, they face Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State on the road and Texas A&M, Arkansas, and LSU at home. From the East, Ole Miss will take on Florida (road) and Vanderbilt (home). The Rebels will have a really good shot at a double digit win season and are in contention for the SEC West title.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks

Bret Bielema came to Arkansas in 2013 and the Razorbacks had a rough first year under him. They went 3-0 to start the season, but lost the final nine games. However, the final three games saw an improved Arkansas team that nearly upset #15 LSU on the road as a 26 point underdog. 2014 was better with Arkansas going 6-6 in the regular season including back-to-back upset shutouts of LSU (17-0) and Ole Miss (30-0). They also nearly upset Alabama at home and lost by a touchdown to the trio of Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Missouri.

The offense for Bielema will have nine starters back. In 2013, they averaged only 20.7 points and 357 yards per game while 2014 saw the numbers improve to 31.9 points and 406 yards per game. Brandon Allen is back after throwing for 2,285 yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but the focus will be on the running game. There are four starters back on the offensive line to pave the way for the Alex Collins. Collins had 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2014, which was second the team. The top rusher was Jonathan Williams, who had 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns, but will miss all of 2015 due to surgery on his foot. The top two receivers are back in Keon Hatcher (43 catches for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Hunter Henry (37 catches for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns). If a viable second back can be developed behind Collins, the Arkansas offense could be really dangerous, but at the least they should be able to match year’s numbers.

The defense took a major step forward in 2014 when compared to 2013. In 2013, the defense gave up 30.8 points and 413 yards per game while the numbers plummeted to 19.2 points and 323 yards per game last year. There will be six starters back with two on the line in JaMichael Winston (26 tackles) and Taiwan Johnson (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss). The line gave up only 115 yards rushing per game and 3.5 yards per carry. The linebackers will have only Brooks Ellis back, but he was second the team in tackles with 72 while also recording 5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary returns mostly intact with three starters back with the trio of Jared Collins (53 tackles and 13 pass breakups), DJ Dean (29 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions), and Rohan Gaines (59 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception). The defense should be stout again in 2015.

Arkansas opens the season with games against UTEP, Toledo, and Texas Tech with all those games in the state of Arkansas. They also face Tennesssee-Martin at home in October. They will face Texas A&M in Arlington as well as Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU on the road. They will play at home against Auburn and Mississippi State and take on Tennessee (road) and Missouri (home) from the East. Arkansas’ games against Alabama and LSU both fall on the road, but they are dangerous team in the West.

5. Auburn Tigers

Auburn won the BCS National Championship in 2010, but quickly fell to 8-5 in 2011 and then 3-9 in 2012. 2013 saw Gus Malzahn come in and nearly win another National Championship for Auburn, but they lose to Florida State in the BCS Championship 34-31. They went to 8-5 last year and are hoping to bounce back to another double digit win season in 2015.

The offense has only four starters back from a group that put up 35.5 points and 485 yards per game in 2014. Of course, Gus Malzahn is known for his offenses and he will have Jeremy Johnson slinging the ball around. Johnson threw for 436 yards and 3 touchdowns while starting the first half of the opener against Arkansas. He will have three of the top five receivers from 2014 led by Duke Williams, who had 45 catches for 730 yards and 5 touchdowns. Also back are Ricardo Louis (21 catches for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Melvin Ray (8 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown). The top running back in 2014 was Cameron Artis-Payne (1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns), but he has moved on to the NFL. He will be replaced by Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas (214 yards and 2 touchdowns). There are three starters back on the offensive line to give Johnson some time as well as create lanes for Robinson and Thomas. The offense will be just fine in 2015 despite only four starters back.

The defense will have eight starters back from a unit that allowed 26.7 points and 399 yards per game. The defensive line will have DaVonte Lambert (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss) and Montravius Adams (43 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) back. The Buck position will be handled by Carl Lawson (out for 2014) and Gimel President (30 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss). At linebacker, the duo of Cassanova McKinzy (91 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss) and Kris Frost (87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss) returning. The secondary will have three starters returning led by Johnathan Ford, who had 93 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. Also returning is Jonathan Jones, who was a ball hawk in 2014 with 11 pass breakups and 6 interceptions to go along with 36 tackles. The defense should be very solid in 2015.

Auburn opens the season with a neutral site game in Atlanta, Georgia against Louisville. They will also face Jacksonville State, San José State, and Idaho at home for their other non-conference games. Auburn will have to play LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M on the road while taking on Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama at home. From the East, the Tigers play Kentucky (road) and Georgia (home). While it is hard to pick the Tigers this low, they are not without a chance to win the West.

6. Texas A&M Aggies

Kevin Sumlin came to Texas A&M in 2012 with two things against him: his first year in charge and the Aggies’ first year in the SEC. He did quite well by going 11-2 overall including the marvelous 29-24 upset of #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. 2013 saw them slip slightly to 9-4 while they went 8-5 in 2014. 2015 will be Sumlin’s fourth year and he has some serious quarterback prospects in his stable.

The offense was a bit underwhelming in 2014 by Sumlin’s standards. They averaged 35.2 points and 455 yards per game, which is great for most teams, but it was nearly 10 points and 100 yards per game than in 2013. Kyle Allen will be at quarterback after getting some playing time in 2014 when he threw for 1,322 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He will be throwing to Josh Reynolds (52 catches for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns), Speedy Noil (46 catches for 583 yards and 5 touchdowns), Ricky Seals-Jones (49 catches for 465 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Edward Pope (30 catches for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns). Tra Carson was the top running back in 2014 with 581 yards and 5 touchdowns and returns alongside Brandon Williams (379 yards and 3 touchdowns). Three starters are back on the offensive line and the numbers should go up for the offense in 2015.

The defense will have eight starters back in 2015 from a group that allowed 28.1 points and 451 yards per game. The trio of Daeshon Hall (29 tackles and 4.5 sacks), Hardreck Walker (35 tackles), and Alonzo Williams (57 tackles and 4.5 sacks) will be returning on the line. The linebackers were hit hard, but the hybrid spot, Rush, will be manned by Myles Garrett, who had 53 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Only Shaan Washington returns at one of the traditional linebacker spots after recording 64 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss last year. The secondary has De’Vante Harris (53 tackles and 1 interception) and Armani Watts (59 tackles, 8 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) back. It is hard to imagine the defense not improving in 2015 with the amount of experience returning.

Texas A&M opens the year with Arizona State in Houston, Texas. After that, they will play Ball State, Nevada, and Western Carolina at home in their non-conference schedule. In division, they have to take on Arkansas in Arlington, Texas before playing Mississippi State, Alabama, and Auburn at home. They will play both Ole Miss and LSU on the road. From the East, they have the duo of South Carolina (home) and Vanderbilt (road) in two winnable games. The Aggies are immensely talented and will have a better offense, which makes it tough to put them this low. They do have a chance to make noise in the West and make the SEC Championship game.

7. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Dan Mullen has been pretty consistent since taking over Mississippi State in 2009. They went 5-7 in that first year, but have made five straight bowl games since then and have also had a winning season each year since 2010. 2014 was nearly a magical season for MSU, as they opened 9-0 before losing three of their last four games. Their two regular season losses were on the road to Alabama and Ole Miss and were then walloped in the Orange Bowl, 49-34. 2015 looks like a rough year with only seven total starters returning.

The offense will have four starters back from a group that put up 36.9 points and 514 yards per game in 2014. The good news is that quarterback Dak Prescott is one of those returning after throwing for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while also rushing for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns. Prescott will be leaned on heavily all season with the top returning running backs in Brandon Holloway (294 yards and 1 touchdown) and Ashton Shumpert (274 yards and 2 touchdowns). The top two receivers also return with De’Runnya Wilson (47 catches for 680 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Fred Ross (30 catches for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns) leading the way. There will be only two starters back on the line as well. Despite just four starters returning, they are in a good spot with the quarterback and top two receivers back, but it will be tough for them to match last year’s output.

The defense has only three starters back from a unit that allowed 21.7 points and 424 yards per game. Ryan Brown is the lone returning starter on the line after recording 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. He will be joined by Chris Jones (26 tackles and 3 sacks) and AJ Jefferson (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). At linebacker, Beniquez Brown is back after recording 62 tackles (#2 on team) along with 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. Richie Brown saw playing time in every game in 2014 and recorded 50 tackles and 3 interceptions as well. The secondary has just Taveze Calhoun (53 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 1 interception) back at starter, but Will Redmond had a solid year as well with 51 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. It will be hard for the Bulldogs to have as good a year as they did in 2014 on the defensive side of the ball.

MSU will have Southern Miss on the road to start their non-conference slate, but finish up with Northwestern State, Troy, and Louisiana Tech at home. In conference, they will play Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas on the road while taking on LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss at home. From the East, they will play both Kentucky (home) and Missouri (road). In a very deep SEC West, it is tough to put the Bulldogs down here with Dak Prescott returning as well as Dan Mullen at the helm. At the very worst, MSU should be back in a bowl game for 2015, but can cause some serious problems for the other teams in the West.


How difficult is it to predict the SEC West? All seven teams made a bowl game in 2014 and all seven teams have a legit chance at winning the division this year. If you are a fan of one of the teams picked at the bottom, do not fret because this was the hardest preview to write given the quality and depth of all the teams. The predicted order of finish below is sure to be wrong, but that is a testament to the SEC West.

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Mississippi

4. Arkansas

5. Auburn

6. Texas A&M

7. Mississippi State

SEC Championship

For the SEC Championship, we had Tennessee winning the SEC East to set up a contest against LSU, the winner of the SEC West. If that were to be the SEC Championship, we will go with LSU to capture yet another for the West Division, which would be the 7th straight against the East.

That concludes the 2015 College Football Preview here at Sports Enthusiasts. Be sure to check back for more news and information regarding all the divisions in College Football, but also for standings and schedules.

2015 College Football Preview: ACC Atlantic

Jimbo Fisher has revitalized Florida State. Can he keep the good times rolling in 2015? (Stacy Revere/Getty Images North America)
Jimbo Fisher has revitalized Florida State. Can he keep the good times rolling in 2015? (Stacy Revere/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: ACC Atlantic

We are taking an in-depth look at the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division after looking at the Coastal Division on Tuesday. The Atlantic looks competitive, just like the Coastal division, with any one of four teams having a chance. Below is the schedule of previews completed and those still to come.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at the seven teams in the ACC Atlantic.

1. Clemson Tigers

Dabo Swinney took over in 2009 and has done a wonderful job for Clemson. He has led them to a bowl game each year in charge, but the last few years have been excellent. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons, won the ACC Championship in 2011, and been to two Orange Bowls. Will 2015 be more of the same?

The offense has seven starters back including the big pieces on offense. Deshaun Watson was injured last year, but managed to throw for 1,466 yards and 2 touchdowns while also rushing for 200 yards and 5 touchdowns. Wayne Gallman is back to run the ball after rushing for 769 yards and 4 touchdowns with CJ Davidson (248 yards and 3 touchdowns), Adam Choice (218 yards and 1 touchdown), and Tyshon Dye (151 yards and 2 touchdowns) all back as well. The top three receivers return led by Mike Williams (57 catches for 1,030 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (76 catches for 965 yards and 8 touchdowns). Three starters are gone from the offensive line. Clemson put up 30.8 points and 408 yards per game in 2014 and they should best those numbers with Watson healthy this year.

The worry for Clemson is on defense where only three starters are back after allowing 16.7 points and 261 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line was ravaged by losses with no starters back. Shaq Lawson recorded 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss last year in a back-up role. The line is a big worry this year. Linebacker will have Ben Boulware back after recording 40 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. The secondary has three starters back led by Jayron Kearse, who had 60 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense is less experienced and they will not match last year’s incredible numbers, but will still be formidable.

Clemson opens the season with Wofford and Appalachian State coming to town before they begin ACC play. The other two non-conference opponents are much tougher against Notre Dame at home and South Carolina on the road. Clemson has to face Louisville, North Carolina State, and Syracuse on the road while taking on Boston College, Florida State, and Wake Forest at home. They also draw Georgia Tech (home) and Miami (road) from the Coastal, but they can win both of those games. Clemson is picked to win the ACC Atlantic, but their margin for error is small.

2. North Carolina State Wolfpack

Dave Doeren came to North Carolina State in 2013 after two season at Northern Illinois. Doeren led the Wolfpack to a 3-9 record, but made a big jump last year to 8-5. Doeren’s coaching has clearly been effective in both the win column and the numbers on paper. 2015 is the third year for Doeren and could lead to a surprise.

The offense went from 22.8 points and 404 yards per game in 2013 to 30.2 points and 409 yards offense per game in 2014. There are seven starters back in 2015 (same number as 2014) including at the skill positions. Jacoby Brissett threw for 2,606 yards with 23 touchdowns while keeping the interceptions low at 5. He ran for 529 yards and 3 touchdowns and is back along with the top two rushers last year. Shadrach Thornton ran for 907 yards and 9 touchdowns while Matt Dayes had 573 yards and 8 touchdowns. Tight end David Grinnage is the top returning receiver with 27 catches for 358 yards and 5 touchdowns. Bra’Lon Cherry had 27 catches for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns while Dayes was fourth on the team last year with 32 catches for 321 yards and 5 touchdowns. Three starters are back on the offensive line and the development of two more wide receivers will likely lead the offense to higher numbers in 2015.

The defense went from 30.2 points and 399 yards per game in Doeren’s first season in 2013 with only five starters back. Last year, the defense improved to 27 points and 373 yards per game with seven starters back. There are eight starters returning this year. Mike Rose (46 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss) and BJ Hill (40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss) will be back on the line. Jerod Fernandez is the lone linebacker returning. He was second on the team in tackles last year with 78, but also recorded 3 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary returns intact with all five starters back. As a unit, they gave up 205 yards passing per game and allowed 55.8% completions. Strong safety Josh Jones had 56 tackles, 1 sack, 7 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions last year. The defense will continue to improve in Doeren’s third year.

North Carolina State has an easy non-conference schedule. They open with Troy and Eastern Kentucky at home before facing Old Dominion and South Alabama on the road. In conference, they will face Louisville, Clemson, and Syracuse at home while facing Wake Forest, Boston College, and Florida State on the road. They draw Virginia Tech (road) and North Carolina (home) from the Atlantic, which are not easy games. However, the Wolfpack have improved under Doeren and the third year is usually the magical year for coaches. The Wolfpack will pull a few surprises and getting Louisville and Clemson at home helps. NC State is a dark horse contender in the ACC Atlantic.

3. Florida State Seminoles

After Bobby Bowden’s retirement in 2009, Jimbo Fisher took over and the Seminoles have been consistent since then. Florida State has failed to register double digit wins only once in 2011 when they went 9-4. FSU won the National Title in 2013 before losing in the College Football Playoff semifinals last year. Fisher has continued to recruit well, which could mean another dangerous FSU team in 2015.

The 2013 team was incredible on offense averaging 51.6 points and 519 yards per game with Heisman winner Jameis Winston at the helm. The offense came back to earth last year averaging only 33.7 points and 441 yards per game. Winston is gone and Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson is in. Golson threw for 3,445 yards with 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last year, but was turnover prone at times. Dalvin  Cook ran for 1,008 yards and 8 touchdowns last year, but his status is currently up in the air. The top two receivers are gone, but Travis Rudolph (38 catches for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns), Jesus Wilson (42 catches for 527 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Ermon Lane (13 catches for 267 yards and 1 touchdown) are ready to step up. Another negative is there is only one starter back on the offensive line in Roderick Johnson at left tackle. There is no doubting the talent here, but the lack of experience this year could hurt especially if Golson has a lot of turnovers.

The defense has been excellent under Fisher. Between 2010 and 2013, the defense did not allow more than 20 points or 360 yards per game (three seasons under 300 yards per game). 2014 was the worst season for the defense under Fisher with 25.6 points and 397 yards per game allowed. This year, seven starters are back including the top four tacklers. On the defensive line, DeMarcus Walker and Derrick Mitchell are back with Walker recording 38 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 tackles for loss. Linebacker is loaded with Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith both returning. Northrup led FSU with 122 tackles while also recording 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception. Smith was the #3 tackler with 87 and also put up 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions. The secondary is also loaded with three starters back led by Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey had 79 tackles (#4 on the team), 3 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. It is no surprise he was named a 2nd Team All-American last year. The defense will be better in 2015.

Florida State opens with Texas State and South Florida both visiting Tallahassee. Their non-conference schedule ends with the final two games of the season against Chattanooga at home and a visit to the Swamp to face Florida. In conference, they will have winnable road games against Boston College and Wake Forest before a stern test against Clemson. Louisville, Syracuse, and North Carolina State will also be visiting Tallahassee. From the Coastal, FSU will take on Georgia Tech (road) and Miami (home). The offense is a bit of a concern, but once again FSU will be a contender to win this division.

4. Louisville Cardinals

Bobby Petrino was here at Louisville from 2003 through 2006 where he won both a C-USA and Big East Championship. Over those four seasons, Louisville went 41-9 and also won the 2007 Orange Bowl. After a failed attempt in the NFL, he returned to coach Arkansas where he went 34-17, but again his tenure ended badly and in controversy. He went to Western Kentucky for a year before replacing Charlie Strong prior to the 2014 season where Louisville went 9-4 in their inaugural ACC season.

Petrino’s teams have always been known for their offense and he will have five starters back in 2015. Last year, the offense put up 31.2 points and 395 yards per game without Teddy Bridgewater. Will Gardner returns after throwing 1,6691 yards with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, who had several injuries during the season. Brandon Radcliff ran for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns and also have Malin Jones available after transferring from Northwestern. The Cardinals lose their top wide receiver in DeVante Parker, but James Quick returns after grabbing 36 passes for 566 yards and 3 touchdowns. Also entering the mix is Ja’Quay Savage from Texas A&M, who was highly touted out of high school. The offensive line has only two starters back, but in year two of Petrino’s offense, this group should be able to match last year’s production.

The defense has only four starters back from a group that allowed 21.8 points and 309 yards per game. The line has two starters back in Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei. Rankins was fourth on the team in tackles last year with 53 while also recording 8 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The linebacking unit has two starters back in Keith Kelsey (87 tackles and 6 sacks) and James Burgess (71 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 3 picks), but the biggest addition is former TCU and 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Devonte Fields. Fields will be wreaking havoc all year long if he stays healthy and has been cleared to play this season. The secondary has zero returning starters, but two former Georgia players resurface here in Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins. The defense will be solid again in 2015.

Louisville opens the season with a neutral site game in Atlanta versus Auburn before Houston comes to town. The non-conference schedule concludes with Samford in week four and a road game at Kentucky on the final weekend of November. The Cardinals will face North Carolina State, Florida State, and Wake Forest on the road while playing Clemson, Boston College, and Syracuse at home. From the Coastal Division, Louisville will play Virginia (home) and Pittsburgh (road) in two winnable games. Louisville has been picked fourth due to some losses on offense and defense, but do not sell them too short. They can move up in Petrino’s second season and have a chance to win the division.

5. Boston College Eagles

Boston College appeared in two ACC Championship games in 2007 and 2008, but lost both of those contests to Virginia Tech. Since then, BC has not registered higher than eight wins in a season and have had two losing seasons as well. Steve Addazio started in 2013 and has led BC to back-to-back 7-6 seasons with losses in the bowl game each year. Year three for Addazio is a mixed bag with some positives and some negatives.

The offense averaged 26.2 points and 384 yards per game last year despite only two starters back. That number is doubled to four this year, but one of them is not quarterback Tyler Murphy, who accounted for 1,623 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He also was the leading rusher with 1,184 yards and 11 touchdowns. Darius Wade is likely to win the starting job, but he has thrown only 8 passes (3 completions for 23 yards) in his career. The good news is that the entire running game returns minus Murphy. Jon Hillman ran for 860 yards and 13 touchdowns, Myles Willis had 459 yards and 2 touchdowns, Sherman Alston had 352 yards and 2 touchdowns, Marcus Outlow ran for 243 yards, and Tyler Rouse ran for 214 yards and 3 touchdowns. Dan Crimmins is the top receiver returning with only 305 yards on 25 catches, but the leader was not much better with 27 catches for 346 yards. The wide receivers only had 933 yards combined. The offensive line will be brand new in 2015 with no starters back. Murphy accounted for a lot of production last year and the Eagles may not top last years numbers.

The defense was excellent last year by surrendering only 21.3 points and 324 yards per game and there will be six starters back. The rush defense was incredible giving up 94 yards per game and the entire starting line returns. Mike Strizak had 43 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss while Kevin Kavalec recorded 40 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. The line is the strength of the defense and will be important to helping the other units come together. Steven Daniels is the lone returning starter at linebacker. Daniels had 72 tackles (#2 on team), 1.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. He will be flanked by the inexperienced, but talented Connor Strachan (12 tackles last season). The secondary has only Justin Simmons back, but he led the team in tackles with 76 as well as recording 1 sack, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense may not match the numbers of 2014, but should be close.

Boston College opens with back-to-back FCS teams at home with Maine and Howard, which puts them in an interesting spot for a bowl game. Should BC win those games, they would then need to win 7 games on the season. If they lose those games, they would still only need to reach 6-6. The other non-conference opponents are Northern Illinois (home) and Notre Dame (Boston). The face Florida State, Wake Forest, and North Carolina State at home while playing Clemson, Louisville, and Syracuse on the road. From the Coastal division, BC will take on Duke (road) and Virginia Tech (home). BC will need an upset to reach a bowl game for the third straight year in 2015, but are capable of getting that upset.

6. Syracuse Orange

Between 2005 and 2009, Syracuse did not win more than four games in a season. In 2010, they went 8-5 before falling back to 5-7 in 2011, but bounced right back up to 8-5 in 2012. Scott Shafer took over in 2013 and led Syracuse to a 7-6 with a bowl victory over Minnesota. Last year, the Orange went 3-9 with eight losses by double digits. A similar season for Shafer could spell the end of his time at Syracuse.

The offense has seven starters back from a team that put up only 17.1 points and 330 yards per game. Quarterback Terrel Hunt threw for 983 yards with 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions in an injury shortened season. AJ Long threw for 935 yards with 4 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while Austin Wilson threw for 253 yards and 4 interceptions. The top two running backs are gone with Devante McFarlane the top back. He ran for 169 yards on 28 carries while Ervin Phillips rushed for 194 yards. The top wide out is also gone, but Steve Ishmael (27 catches for 415 yards and 3 touchdowns), Ben Lewis (24 catches for 275 yards and 1 touchdown), Ashton Broyld (15 catches for 174 yards), and Brisly Estime (10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown) all returning. Three starters are back on the offensive line and if the quarterback position stays healthy this year, the numbers can only go up.

The defense was solid last year allowing 24.3 points and 349 yards per game. This year, three starters return with one at each level. Ron Thompson is the lone returning lineman after recording 32 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups. Marqez Hodge back after recording 38 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss in an injury shortened year. The secondary has Julian Whigam back after recording 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. With the lack of experience on defense, it would be a surprise if the numbers did not regress.

Syracuse opens the season with four consecutive home games against Rhode Island, Wake Forest, Central Michigan, and LSU. They close out the non-conference slate after a bye on the road at South Florida. In conference, the Orange will take on the aforementioned Wake Forest team as well as Pittsburgh and Boston College at home. On the road, they will play Florida State, Louisville, and North Carolina State. From the Coastal division, Syracuse will face Pittsburgh (home) and Clemson (road). It is difficult to see Syracuse navigating their way to a bowl game in 2015 with the inexperienced defense, but could come close.

7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake Forest won the 2006 ACC Championship and played in the 2006 Orange Bowl, but lost to Louisville 24-13. Since that magical season, it has been downhill for the Demon Deacons. They went 9-4 in 2007 and 8-5 in 2008, but failed to achieve a winning record since then with only a 2011 bowl loss to show for it. Dave Clawson was hired from Bowling Green to turn around the program and he led the team to a 3-9 record last year.

The offense was putrid last season with only four starters back. The numbers were 14.8 points and 216 yards per game with the rushing offense averaging a pathetic 40 yards per game. John Wolford threw for 2,037 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and he will have his top target back. Cam Serigne, a tight end, caught 54 passes for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns. The top wide receiver from last year is Jared Crump, who caught 32 passes for 339 yards and a touchdown. The running game has the top rushers back in Dezmond Wortham and Isaiah Robinson. Wortham ran for 240 yards on 84 attempts (2.9 YPC) while Robinson had 175 yards and 3 touchdowns on 98 carries (1.8 YPC). The offense should perform better in 2015 in year two of Clawson’s system and a total of seven starters back.

The defense returns seven starters like their offensive counterparts. For as bad as the offense was, the defense was respectable by giving up 26.4 points and 369 yards of offense per game. The line has three starters returning led by Josh Banks, who had 36 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. The linebacking unit has three starters back. Brandon Chubb was second on the team in tackles last year with 109, but also had 3 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Marquel Lee had 101 tackles (#3 on team) as well as 4 sacks and 8 tackles for loss. The secondary has just Ryan Janvion back, but he was the top tackler at 115. He also recorded 7 tackles for loss and 6 pass breakups. The defense could be solid again in 2015.

Wake Forest opens with Elon at home before back-to-back road games versus Syracuse and Army. They face Indiana in week four at home and then travel to Notre Dame in mid-November for the final non-conference game. In addition to Syracuse on the road, Wake Forest will play Boston College and Clemson as well. At home, they will take on Florida State, North Carolina State, and Louisville. From the Coastal, Wake Forest draws North Carolina (road) and Duke (home). Wake Forest will not be contending for a bowl game in 2015, but 3-4 wins would be good for this group.


The ACC Atlantic will come down to the quartet of Clemson, NC State, Florida State, and Louisville. Behind them will be Boston College and Syracuse as that duo will need an upset or two to reach a bowl game. Wake Forest is probably a year or two from a bowl game. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Clemson

2. North Carolina State

3. Florida State

4. Louisville

5. Boston College

6. Syracuse

7. Wake Forest

ACC Championship

On Tuesday, we predicted that North Carolina would win the ACC Coastal. With Clemson projected to take the ACC Atlantic, that would set up UNC versus Clemson for the ACC Championship. If that were to be the title game, Clemson is predicted to win the ACC Championship.

Check back on Tuesday as we dive into the Big 10’s West Division.

Inside The Box Scores: College Football Week 8

Cody Kessler had 7 touchdown passes against Colorado on Saturday (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)
Cody Kessler had 7 touchdown passes against Colorado on Saturday (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)


Final scores do not always tell the tale of how a game truly went or how comprehensive a team performed. This article is intended to shed light on some of those discrepancies and highlight some stats put up by teams and individuals alike.


Virginia Tech Hokies at Pittsburgh Panthers (Pittsburgh won 21-16 on Thursday (10/16))

The Hokies ran for only 26 yards on 22 carries as a team against Pittsburgh. That comes out to an average of 1.2 yards per carry. Even worse, the offense was 2 of 14 on third down yet the Hokies managed to stay in the game until late in the fourth quarter.

For Pittsburgh, James Conner ran for 85 yards on 16 carries, but he did have two touchdowns. This marked his third straight game where he failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark. His first four games saw him run for at least 153 yards each game and total 699 rushing yards. In the last three games, Conner has produced 260 yards. That total is respectable, but it is quite a drop off from his early season output.


Temple Owls at Houston Cougars (Houston won 31-10 on Friday (10/17))

The story of this game was the four turnovers by Temple quarterback P.J. Walker. He had three interceptions and a fumble lost. One interception was returned for pick-six and another led to a Houston touchdown. The lost fumble came on the doorstep of Houston’s end zone at the one yard line. Those three turnovers combined were a 17 to 21 point swing, which undoubtedly cost the Owls a chance to win.


South Florida Bulls at Tulsa Golden Hurricane (South Florida won 38-30 on Saturday (10/18))

South Florida trailed 27-7 at halftime, but outscored Tulsa 31-3 in the final minutes to win the game. Outside of their first drive of the third quarter, Tulsa ran only 7 plays in South Florida territory and failed to score a point.


Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers (West Virginia won 41-27 on Saturday)

This game had several noticeable stats. First, Baylor committed 18 penalties for 215 yards!! West Virginia committed 14 penalties for 138 yards. Combined, the two teams had 32 penalties for 353 yards. Those 353 penalties yards are more than Baylor put up on offense (318 yards)!

As impressive (or pathetic) as those penalty yards are, the Mountaineers did everything they could early on to let Baylor put up points. Clint Trickett had a lost fumble and an interception that led to 10 Baylor points in the first quarter. Daryl Worley lost a fumble on a punt return, but Baylor could not take advantage of that turnover.


 Kansas State Wildcats at Oklahoma Sooners (Kansas State won 31-30 on Saturday)

We will not dwell on this game too much because this is obvious why the Sooners lost. Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed two field goals (including a horrendous shank late in the game) and an extra point. One could also point to Danzel McDaniel’s 5 yard pick-six as another reason.


Texas A&M Aggies at Alabama Crimson Tide (Alabama won 59-0 on Saturday)

This one has to be included for the way Alabama utterly dominated the Aggies. The Tide were up 45-0 at the break and held the high-flying Aggies offense to 172 yards for the entire game!! The Tide scored 35 second quarter points, the most ever in a single quarter for an Alabama team.

The shutout is even more impressive because it marks the first time Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin has been shut out as a coach in 86 games at the FBS level.

We all know Nick Saban is looking for something to critique in this performance and there are few he can sheepishly use. The first is that the Aggies managed to convert two third downs… out of 13 attempts. In addition, the Tide only forced one turnover. There are your areas for improvement, coach Saban.


Michigan State Spartans at Indiana Hoosiers (Michigan State won 56-17 on Saturday)

Indiana actually led 17-14 with 5:25 left in the second quarter, but Michigan State quickly put an end to that. They scored 14 points in the final 4 minutes to take a 28-17 lead and then poured on 28 more points in the second half.

The most striking stat was that Indiana had 11 yards passing. Zander Diamont went 5 of 15 for all 11 yards in his first start as a true freshman. He has drawn comparisons to Johnny Manziel, but that is all hyperbole for a kid who had a total of one negative yard on the game (Diamont also ran 10 times for -12 yards).

The Hoosiers had 224 yards of offense, even without a passing game from Diamont, who was replacing the injured Nate Sudfeld. Tevin Coleman had 132 yards on 15 carries, which is excellent for a one-dimensional offense against the Spartans.


Colorado Buffaloes at USC Trojans (USC won 56-28 on Saturday)

USC quarterback Cody Kessler went 19 of 26 for 391 yards and 7 touchdowns. Yes, 7 touchdowns for Cody Kessler. It is a pretty good day when 27% of your attempts go for a touchdown and 37% of your completions end up as a score. Unsurprisingly, Kessler is now the USC single game record holder for touchdown passes in a game. He also tied the Pac-12 record with 7 touchdown passes in a game with Mike Pagel of Arizona State in the 1981 season.


Tennessee Volunteers at Ole Miss Rebels (Ole Miss won 34-3 on Saturday)

Ole Miss gave up a total 191 yards of offense to Tennessee on Saturday night. All 191 yards came through the air, as the Volunteers did not gain a single yard via the ground game. Jalen Hurd had 40 yards rushing, but that was cancelled out by Justin Worley’s 8 rushes for -41 yards performance. One caveat, however, is that sack yardage goes against the rushing stats in college football.


Missouri Tigers at Florida Gators (Missouri won 42-13 on Saturday)

Most people probably heard this on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but it is worth repeating. Missouri had 119 yards of total offense (20 passing and 99 rushing), yet the won by 29 points over Florida. How? Turnovers and touchdown returns.

Missouri had a kickoff return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, a fumble return for a touchdown, and an interception return for a touchdown. Marcus Murphy had both the kickoff and punt returns for a touchdown from 96 and 86 yards respectively. Markus Golden had a 21 yard fumble return and Darvin Ruise had a 46 yard interception return.

The Gators committed 6 turnovers, three fumbles and three interceptions, which led to 24 points for Missouri.

Will Muschamp should start packing his bags now because he is well on his way out of Gainesville.


Utah State Aggies at Colorado State Rams (Colorado State won 16-13 on Saturday)

The highlight of this game was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins. He caught 10 passes for 187 yards during the game while the Rams threw for 243 yards. That equates to Higgins accounting for 77% of the receiving yardage. Higgins managed to account for only 59% of the total offense for Colorado State.


Iowa State Cyclones at Texas Longhorns (Texas won 48-45 on Saturday)

This needs a bit of context to explain why it makes it here. According to Las Vegas Insider, the over/under of this game closed at 45.5 points, which makes them believe it would be a defensive game. Texas closed as an 11-point favorite so it was expected that Texas would not give up many points.

Boy, those expectations were way off.

The two teams combined for 1,036 yards of total offense with the yardage nearly split 50/50. Iowa State had 524 yards and Texas amassed 512 yards. By halftime, the score was 28-28, well over the 45.5 points expected for the ENTIRE GAME.

Both quarterbacks had over 300 yards passing with Sam B. Richardson (ISU) having 345 yards and Tyrone Swoopes (UT) throwing for 321 yards. Iowa State ran for 179 yards while the Longhorns had 191 yards on the ground.

This just goes to show that even Vegas can be way off once in a while.


Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Florida State Seminoles (Florida State won 31-27 on Saturday)

Controversial ending aside, this game did feature one incredible strength. That was the run defense of Notre Dame. They allowed only 50 yards rushing on 26 carries for the Seminoles.

There may be recipe in there to beat Florida State. By stopping the run, they put the pressure on Jameis Winston to lead the Seminoles offense with his arm. If a team can force Winston into mistakes and turnovers, they can pull the upset. However, it is far more difficult to force Jameis into mistakes on the football field as opposed to off of the field.


Nevada Wolf Pack at BYU Cougars (Nevada won 42-35 on Saturday)

This was a late night game, but it had plenty of fireworks and not a lot of defense. The two teams combined for 58 first downs, 1,012 yards of total offense, and 20 third down conversion out of 38 attempts.

BYU led 28-13 at the break, but saw their lead evaporate with four scoring drives by Nevada in the second half. All four of those scoring drives resulted in touchdowns and a 42-28 lead with less than 6 minutes remaining. The Wolf Pack held on for a 42-35 win to send BYU to their third straight loss without Taysom Hill.

Filling in for Hill has been Christian Stewart who looked excellent in this game until the fourth quarter. For the game, he went 39 of 63 for 408 yards with 4 passing touchdowns. He did not have a single interception, but he lost two fumbles in the final seven and a half minutes to dent BYU’s chances of winning. The first led to a touchdown by Nevada to take a 42-28 lead and the second occurred at the Nevada 34 yard line when the Cougars were driving for the game-tying score.

It was an unfitting end to a game in which Stewart played so well.